Condolence - Malcolm Fraser
Posted March 26, 2015
CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (17:26): I would also like to associate my comments with those of the member for
Bradfield. I rise today to acknowledge Malcolm Fraser's role as a statesman, his contribution to regional Victoria
and Australia, his courage in addressing controversial issues, his personal support for me and for engaging young
people in politics. In this brief speech I would like to share a few recollections of my personal relationship with
Mr Fraser and thank him for his encouragement and support.
I began work in Old Parliament House in 1980. Mr Fraser was Prime Minister; Mr Howard was Treasurer. They
were heady days. I worked for Mr Ewen Cameron, the then federal member for Indi, as his legislative research
officer. We were in government; we took action. In Old Parliament House we crossed paths with many people
who were or became famous. We shared our corridor with the already famous Ros Kelly, the Labor member
for the ACT; the soon to be very famous Bob Hawke; and regional MPs such as Steve Lusher, a National Party
MP from New South Wales.
Actors such as Mungo MacCallum held sway in the non-members bar most evenings and we very hungry staffers
paid homage to the already very famous media icons such as Laurie Oakes, Michelle Grattan and Alan Ramsey.
It was a good time to be a young person, to be working in Canberra and to be part of politics. At that time I was very interested in women in politics. Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle was the then only female member of cabinet and, at that time, only the third ever female cabinet minister. Previous cabinet ministers were Dame Enid Lyons and Dame Annabelle Rankin. Dame Margaret Guilfoyle was the first Victorian female minister. She was a strong role model for us and a great supporter of women in politics.
It would not be true to say that I knew Mr Fraser well, but he would certainly acknowledge me, smile and say hello. He knew who I was, who I worked for, where I was from—that I was from country Victoria. For me, that was enough to know that I was connected.
As I said, it was an interesting time in politics. Mr Fraser was supporting the building of the new Parliament House. Some of us younger staffers wondered: would there be toilets and showers for women staffers? They were in short supply in the old place.
Child care was another issue in the electorate. We were growing in our understanding of how important accessible and affordable childcare was for women if they were to enter the workforce. Some of the staffers were concerned that the design of the new Parliament House did not include any childcare facilities. I can remember convincing Mr Cameron that this was a really important issue and that we needed to take action. We got permission from the then Speaker for a survey to gauge demand and to gauge what the potential usage would be. That felt like a great victory.
However, we were extraordinarily disappointed and very frustrated when we staffers were told that only members of parliament would be able to fill out the survey and, as most of them were male—and older—few saw the need for child care. This led to us, as a small group, wanting to take the issue to Senator Guilfoyle and to the Prime Minister. We were persuaded not to do that. The new Parliament House was duly built, and only much later was the childcare centre added, taking over from where the nonmembers' bar had been. In retrospect, I wonder what would have happened if we younger staffers had pushed the issue.
The second story I would like to share regarding Malcolm Fraser happened much more recently. On the Sunday after the 2013 election, he rang me at home. While the vote was very close and still undecided, he congratulated me, as it looked like I might win the seat. He acknowledged what we were trying to do in Indi—our work in community engagement and our efforts to address the widespread sense of disillusionment, disengagement and disappointment that many in our regional communities felt about our current state of political discourse. He had been following my career. He approved of our work with young people, saying that, if there was going to be any change in our nation, it would be because the young people wanted something more. He approved of our work
in encouraging the community to participate in politics, knowing that community engagement and participation
are the bedrock of an effective democracy. He saw our efforts for what they were: humble yet transparent, open,
honourable, courageous and, from his perspective, absolutely necessary.
I think he saw in the 'Voice for Indi' movement something of the old-fashioned liberalism and he saw me as a more traditional 'rural community' candidate. He was delighted at the result in Indi and offered me his support. And, on a number of other occasions since then, he offered—as he has to many other people in the House—his advice.
We shared much, including our belief in the need for participation to underpin the democratic process and the need to make sure young people are engaged in and understand politics. And, on issues such as treatment of asylum seekers, we both felt that the political system was letting our country down. Remembering his actions following the Vietnam War and how his government welcomed the refugees into the country and resourced NGOs and community groups to facilitate the assimilation—kids into schools, language classes, volunteer and settlement coordinators—it was a generous investment at the front end and it has paid enormous dividends. Today we can learn so much from his generous, inclusive policies.
In closing, I would like to say publicly: thank you, Mr Fraser. Goodbye and God bless you. May you rest in
peace. Thank you for your belief that we as a nation are a generous, caring, practical people. We can both stop
the boats and look after people. We can honour diversity. Thank you, Mr Fraser, for your trust and belief that
Australia can be better than this.